NIGERIA – Many girls do not even know sex can make them pregnant

At the recent National Conference on Inclusivity, Equality & Diversity in University Education, hosted by the University of Lagos, a speaker from the Society for Family Health said that Nigeria would move closer to achieving major targets in the Sustainable Development Goals by assuring adolescent girls access to health and critical social services. The Deputy Project Director of Adolescents 360, Fifi Ogbondeminu, supported this and talked about promoting social inclusiveness and reducing unplanned pregnancies and unsafe abortions among adolescent girls and young women. A good starting point, she said, would be to review and implement the National Policy on Integrating Youth-Friendly Services into Existing Primary Health Care Centres. She urged the federal and state governments to upscale safe spaces for adolescent girls in more PHC facilities.

Adebusola Odulaja, Regional Coordinator of the A360 Project, called for training of service providers in more primary health care centres and in adolescent-friendly clinics, because girls complain of having to travel long distances to these facilities, and are then often turned away and refused access to services.

Nigeria has some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws. Nevertheless, an estimated 2.7 million abortions take place each year, the majority of which are in dangerous conditions, with poor, uneducated women and girls most at risk.

In northern Nigeria, health and aid workers say unsafe abortions have surged since the start of the Boko Haram conflict in 2009, which has driven some 1.8 million Nigerians from their homes. At least 40 women and girls come in for emergency post-abortion care each month, according to Aminu, a senior nurse in a busy government clinic in Yobe state. Mortality rates in the northeast – where clinics and hospitals have been destroyed by armed groups – are the worst in Nigeria, government data show. Women and girls go to pharmacies, vendors of locally made drugs and older women to terminate pregnancies, using medication, herbs or tools like sticks, Aminu said.

One woman with five children who received post-abortion care said: “Men say it’s immorality. But they are not the ones who have to give birth and look after the babies. When your children are telling you they are hungry, how can you have another one?” Fetuses are often found in the camp’s toilets, she said.

With many husbands missing, detained or dead, more women are having sex outside marriage, aid workers said. While some women choose to get into new relationships, the United Nations has recorded thousands of cases of sexual violence and transactional sex, particularly reported by women and girls who lack food, shelter or money.

Yet Nigerian officials insist the law on abortion is upheld.

SOURCES: Leadership Nigeria, by Odiri Uchenunu-Ibeh, 8 October 2019 ; Reuters, by Chitra Nagarajan, Thomson Reuters Foundation, 14 October 2019 ; PHOTO by SFH A360; Adolescent 360 Nigeria